You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Arthur Englander's Back in School

Dear Mrs Masters, as you probably know,

almost half our Fifth Grade Class is Jewish--not

a majority

but lots, without even counting our teacher

Miss Husband, who's getting married (next June) to

a gentile husband!

--that has to change more than her name, doesn't it?

Well, your office records must show who's really

Jewish and who's not,

and for some of us who just happen to be

Jewish, those records might be the only sure

indication of

our race or faith or whatever makes us Jews,

and therefore different from the other kids

(no one really knows).

But this week our Rabbi told us this weird thing:

he says there are Jews--mostly in Hasidic

congregations and

they're mostly in Brooklyn--who perform (between

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) this ritual

called pekkarot--no,

that's backward, the Hebrew word is kapparot--

during which Believers swing a live chicken

high over their heads:

this whirling is meant to transfer the Hasid's

sins to the chicken, which is then sacrificed.

Rabbi Abraham

said about 50,000 chickens are used

in ceremonies all over Brooklyn--

that's a lot of birds

to get slaughtered (after being whirled), and most

wind up in someone's pot. Not everyone whirls

chickens, there are some

Orthodox Believers who whirl money instead--

Maimonides himself once called kapparot

a pagan practice

that should be abandoned, but our Rabbi says

it's going strong in Brooklyn and can't be stopped.

Now Mrs Masters,

we've learned--trust Duncan Chu to find out, of course--

that Arthur Englander's late parents

were Hasidic Jews

(Arthur was the boy who killed that peacock, but

you wouldn't punish him, even though we voted


to expel him from the Fifth Grade), and when we

went to see his Aunt, she showed us a photo

of Arthur, age six,

wearing gloves and whirling a big white rooster

for kapparot... No one knew where he had gone

after What Happened,

but you said he we should help him "find himself"

if he came back to Park School, and of course

the police found him

right away. Mrs Masters, we think Arthur

believed he had to slaughter that poor peacock

for his kapparot--

he got it all mixed up with vampire movies

and that's what he meant when he screamed

he had to do it

right. Christine Rath says that's how religions work.

Even when we've forgotten what they mean

we do what we think

are the same things people have always done.

But we forget. Or we change. And Christine's

not even Jewish!

And then Duncan Chu said that religions die

once they're proved to be true. And that Science is

the tombstone of dead

religions. And Duncan's not Jewish either.

But David Stashower is, so he had to

tell what his father

thinks: that Scientists now say the same thing

as Rabbis, but without capital letters.

Arthur Englander

paid no attention to what anyone had said,

but now most of us want him back in Fifth Grade

with all the others.

By Richard Howard